Down on the Farm: Morse plays left, goes hitless in first rehab game

Down on the Farm: Morse plays left, goes hitless in first rehab game

Michael Morse was back on the field in a Giants uniform for the first time in nearly a month Tuesday night. Well, that is, a San Jose Giants uniform in Advanced Single-A. 

Morse, 35, began his rehab assignment after straining his hamstring rounding first base in spring training on March 20. 

“It’s really too bad for him. He was doing all he needed to do to make the club. It’s a shame,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said at the time of the injury.

Morse went 0-for-2 with a walk, a strikeout and a run scored Tuesday in San Jose as the Giants took down the Salt Lake Bees, 3-2. Most interestingly, he played left field for seven innings and caught the only ball hit his way. 

In his first at-bat back in action, Morse drew a walk and later scored on a Dillon Dobson liner to center, which also plated catcher Aramis Garcia, scoring all the Giants’ runs for the game in the first inning alone. Morse's strikeout came on a called strike three in his next time up, but he showed promise with his final at-bat. 

At the plate in the bottom of the fifth with Giants’ 2016 first-round pick Bryan Reynolds at first, Morse rocketed a line shot to third. Unfortunately, it was snagged and resulted in a double play. 

Morse was replaced defensively in the top of the eighth inning by Daniel Carbonell. 

In spring training, Morse impressed Bochy with his bat as well as his glove and fitness.

“I think, not just the way he was swinging the bat, but he was playing a good first base and I put him in the outfield,” Bochy said. “I think he was moving around well. He came into camp in tremendous shape. That should show him he still has some baseball left. Good baseball.”

Morse played in 14 games for the Giants in spring training, spending time at both first base and left field. He hit .258 with a .343 on-base percentage and .516 slugging percentage while knocking out two home runs. 

“I proved to myself that I can still play,” Morse said the day after his injury. “And I proved to myself yesterday that I’m not really a fast runner.”

The last time Morse played in the majors, he went hitless suiting up in six games for the Pirates in 2016. He also has not played in left field since 2015, where he made no errors in 35 innings for the Marlins. 

Morse proved he can still play in spring training. Now he must prove he can stay healthy to be that spark he was for the Giants again, just like back in 2014. And it all starts down on the farm in San Jose. 

Around The Horn

— Morse isn’t the only veteran outfielder for the Giants in the minors looking to make it back up to the bigs. Drew Stubbs, 32, has only played in five games for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats and already has 10 strikeouts. He is improving though, going 4-for-10 in his last two games. Justin Ruggiano, 35, is also in the outfield mix for the River Cats. He has struggled so far, hitting only .214 with 10 strikeouts in eight games. 

— The Christian Arroyo hit parade continues in Sacramento. Arroyo belted his second home run of the season Tuesday night and now has an 11-game hit streak. At 21 years old, he is batting .442, which leads the Pacific Coast League. 

— Last week, Aramis Garcia was named to the MLB Pipeline Prospect Team of the Week. After missing much of the season injured in 2016, Garcia, 24, is hitting .341/.386/.610 with three home runs and 13 RBI in nine games. 

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made. 

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Giants lineup: Pence hitting third, Panik back into two-hole

Clutch, late-game hitting by Hunter Pence has propelled him to the three hole as the Giants look to bounce back vs the Braves. Bruce Bochy has released the rest of his lineup for Game 2 of the series...

San Francisco Giants:
1. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 3B
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Hunter Pence (R) RF
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Austin Slater (R) LF
6. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
7. Nick Hundley (R) C
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Cain (R) P

Atlanta Braves:
1. Ender Inciarte (L) CF
2. Brandon Phillips (R) 2B
3. Nick Markakis (L) RF
4. Matt Kemp (R) LF
5. Matt Adams (L) 1B
6. Kurt Suzuki (R) C
7. Dansby Swanson (R) SS
8. Johan Camargo (S) 3B
9. Jaime Garcia (L) P